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Raptors905 Columns

Shevon Thompson makes quick impression with Raptors 905

Essentially for free!

It took all of a couple of seconds for Shevon Thompson to make an impact.

Playing in his first game as a member of Raptors 905, just days after being acquired, Thompson was given the nod as the team’s starting center by head coach Jerry Stackhouse. Thompson showed why in short order, grabbing an offensive rebound and putting it back. He’d score on a driving and-one on the next possession, then hit a hook shot, pouring in seven of the team’s first 10 points in under two minutes.

For as impressive as it was, it raised an early question: Why in the world was Thompson even available to the 905?

It’s a question that’s hard to answer. Thompson’s rights were owned by the Lakeland Magic (after the Erie Bayhawks transitioned to the Magic in a somewhat messy expansion juggling), but Thompson wasn’t in their plans. The Magic were already employing Adreian Payne on a two-way contract, were expecting to see plenty of assignment time with Khem Birch, and had two other centers on the roster. From a roster-building perspective, it makes sense that one of the centers would be the odd man out, and the 905 were surprised and pleased that they were able to pry Thompson away on the cheap. (The 905 sent the final year of returning player rights to Scott Suggs to Lakeland in the deal, but Suggs isn’t currentlyexpected to return to the G League this season.)

That no other G League team beat the offer is curious. It seemed, when Thompson signed back into the G League player pool, that Lakeland had gotten lucky and might be able to secure a meaningful asset for him, but it now looks as if general manager Anthony Parker was just trying to find Thompson a good home quickly. Consider the 905 thrilled to be the beneficiaries.

Thompson is an intriguing piece coming off of a strong rookie G League season with Erie. While he only played 17 games, he made a pronounced impact, posting five double-doubles and averaging 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in just 21.3 minutes. He posted a 58.2 true-shooting percentage and grabbed nearly 20 percent of available rebounds when on the floor. The Bayhawks were bad, but they were only outscored by 1.2 points per-100 possessions when Thompson was on the floor, much better than the team’s -6.2 net rating overall. It was enough to get him a Summer League look with the Los Angeles Clippers and then draw interest internationally, eventually signing in Lebanon for a brief stretch.

Prior to entering the G League, Thompson had traveled a difficult path. After leaving his home of Jamaica for the first time at age 19 to pursue a professional career, he spent time at two junior colleges over two seasons before landing at George Mason. He averaged 11.2 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in two seasons there, shooting 56.5 percent and earning an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational.  While there, he measured at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and a 9-foot-3 standing reach, dnd with a 245-pound frame, the physical tools Thompson has to build from are obvious. He’s still just 24, and it doesn’t take much squinting to see how he could fine-tune his approach and production to become a viable long-term prospect.

Already through two games, Thompson’s shown plenty. In 55 total minutes, he’s scored 33 points and grabbed 22 rebounds. In the process, he’s flashed a number of intriguing skills that the 905 might be able to build with.

The most glaring need the 905 have had with the loss of Edy Tavares and Kennedy Meeks being with USA Basketball for FIBA qualifiers has been a post presence. Thompson’s shown real potential there against quality opposing bigs like James Michael McAdoo, Landry Nnoko, and Zeke Marshall. He has the strength and body control to clear space for himself to operate, can bump his man off of his back or shoulder, and has a soft touch spinning toward or away from the rim, particularly when leaning forward after initiating contact to make space for his floater. He even showed some nice passing instincts, an area he’ll need to improve to keep the offense flowing as cutters whirl around him.

“He was a presence for us,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “On the offensive end, we were able to throw it down to him and he can finish and make plays for us. He’ll get better. I think when we’re whole, then we’ll have a combination of him and Kennedy at that five position. I think we’ll be really, really solid. It’s great. It opens up a lot of stuff for us. We can’t take the big-man out the game, man. The big man still has a role. And I think we have a couple guys now that feel comfortable with doing that.”

Stackhouse feeding Thompson in the post wasn’t surprising given his philosophies, and it’s probably the easiest play type to make a contribution in while still getting up to speed on the offense. It wasn’t the only area he showed promise, though, scoring or drawing fouls on a number of plays as the roll-man. Thompson shows nice instincts slipping into space after making contact on a screen and presents himself to the ball-handler really well. Armed with a quick first step toward the rim and an ability to go up strong while protecting the ball, he’ll be an option the 905 guards will learn to look to more and more as they develop a chemistry.

The 905 will also be asking Thompson to carry an offensive rebounding load, something he’s done well at most levels. As with many bigs, Thompson’s first instinct is to go right back up after securing a rebound, and since he’s often pushing bodies out of his way to grab the board, he’ll have some space to do so. He’s averaged an offensive rebound every 11 minutes through two games, and he’s scored off of a number of them, showing a deft touch at the rim and even thinking on his feet for a quick spinning mini-drive on a long rebound.

Perhaps what surprised most about Thompson’s performance was his face-up game. He’s never flashed much range, but he’s very comfortable putting the ball on the floor from 15 feet out and beyond. He has a decent crossover dribble for a center his size, will draw a lot of fouls going north-south, and is quick enough to get enough of a step on opposing bigs to get to the rim.

His first two games weren’t perfect, of course. Thompson committed eight turnovers, which has been a persistent problem for him, his turnover rate flirting with 20 percent last year and surpassing it in college. He also picked up 10 fouls in his 55 minutes, taking himself out of his first game with foul trouble that wasn’t entirely his fault (a number of them were committed while trying to cover up for a teammate) but is still worth monitoring (he averaged 4.4 fouls per-36 minutes last year). Thompson’s instinct is also to drop back against most pick-and-rolls, and the 905 will probably want him to come up higher on those in time and trust his agility to get back to the rim.

He should improve. He’s a worker, with the lack of gym access in downtime one of his biggest gripes with his time in Lebanon. Even Sunday, on the second day of a back-to-back, Thompson was getting a weight-lifting session in shortly before tip-off. He’s an eager student who knows he does some big things well but has a ways to go on the finer points of the game, and he and Stackhouse have found a quick chemistry (a predictable match given Thompson’s work ethic and Stackhouse’s penchant for playing through the post).  The soft-spoken center isn’t particularly enthusiastic talking about himself as an individual, and he conceded that Sunday’s win let him relax a little and appreciate his good start.

“I feel better today, yeah. Yeah, I’m starting to feel more comfortable. I’m just trying to put myself in the best position to help these guys to win, help this team to win,” he said. “That’s the main goal right now. They won a championship last year, I wanna keep that going, you know?”

He’s come along at the right time, proving an immediate fit with the 905 through two games. And yes, he’s tried Shandra’s in Mississauga to help make the fit feel like a good one off the court, too.

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